For many, the allure of retirement is fabled in time with grandkids, traveling, and hitting golf balls down range. But the reality is retirement can bring on depression, place stress on the finances, and for some, bring on a sedentary lifestyle that actually contributes to poor health.
Before discussing the importance of remaining active during retirement, let’s take a look at the origins and how they relate to today’s definition. Retirement was invented by Otto von Bismark in 1889, the German Chancellor who came up with the idea that the government should pay for those who reached old age. Thing is, old age then was considered to be 70 as was the life expectancy. Today, we are living much longer, fuller lives, meaning retiring at 65 or 70 means we may still have another decade or two in which to stay active (and fund our lifestyles).
In the U.S. the average life expectancy is 78.74 years while in Japan, where the life expectancy is amongst the highest in the world, it’s 83.10 years. So why do the Japanese live so much longer?
What Retired American’s can learn from Japanese Okinawan’s
Part of the reason the average Japanese person lives so much longer than the average American is because a tropical island chain called Okinawa that greatly increases the country average. Okinawan’s, on average, live a full seven years longer than most Americans.
There is a lot of research dedicated to finding out why, and we’ll break out some of the major takeaways and showcase how they relate to staying active.
For starters, older Okinawans eat with smaller plates, consciously avoiding overeating, and have a diet rich in carbohydrates. A traditional diet of an Okinawan living over 80 years includes:
-80 percent carbs
-Fish three times a week
-Seven servings of vegetables per day
-One or two servings or grain per day
-Two servings of soy in the form of tofu
In addition to this diet, Okinawans form social groups as children and retain them throughout their lives. But perhaps the most indicative reason Okinawans live longer than anyone else is due to how they retire.
Okinawans don’t have a Word for “Retirement”
In America, we retire and stop working, sometimes to the detriment of our health. In Okinawa, there is literally no word for this action and they never actually stop working. These islanders instead develop what is called an “ikigai” (pronounced something like “icky guy”). An ikigai is the reason you wake up in the morning.
It has been researched to determine whether or not it extends one’s longevity. In a study titled Sense of Life Worth Living (ikigai) and Mortality in Japan, researchers found that people with a purpose in life were more likely to have higher levels of health and lower stress. In fact, those who found a sense of ikigai had much lower mortality rates, showing that retirement, in the Western sense, may not be what’s good for us after all.
How to Stay Active During Retirement
Staying active is a key ingredient in a healthy life, but where do you start if you’re not already involved in some kind of ikigai? If you’re a part of an assisted living community or considering one, you’ll find that there are plenty of activities that you can engage in with your peers.
Swimming is a great activity for seniors because it is low impact and is a low-injury-risk form of working out. However, physical activity is not the only form of staying active; joining a gardening club or some kind of social group can be the perfect way to connect with your peers while keeping your mind focused on something that you enjoy waking up to every day.
When seeking out senior living communities, take a look at the activities that they offer to see if there are any that really stand out to you. Many of these communities have lots of events, social groups, or workout classes that you’ll want to enjoy on a day-to-day basis.
For help finding an assisted living facility near you, check out the Seniorly.com website and see all the great places to find your future home.
Daniel Lofaso is the Community Outreach Manager for Lourdes Noreen Mckeen, a retirement and independent living facility in West Palm Beach, FL.